Jewish Journal

Live at Sundance:  A Douchbag and a Mensh

by Larry Mark

January 24, 2010 | 6:25 pm

While waiting for screenings of the Jewish-themed flicks “Hesher” and “Holy Rollers,” I took in two sweeter and quieter films – one the story of a Douchebag (which also happens to be the title of the film), and another involving a mensh who changed a child’s life in “A Small Act.”

Drake Doremus’ “Douchebag” opens a few days before bearded, balding Sam Nussbaum (Andrew Dickler) marries his girlfriend, Steph (Marguerite Moreaux); members of both mischpochas will be there save for Sam’s brother, Tom, (Ben York Jones), a, controlling vegetarian who hasn’t spoken to the groom in two years.  A concerned Steph decides to drive several hours to Tom’s apartment, introduce herself as his future sister-in-law, and convince him to attend the wedding.  Then all would be right in the world – or so she thinks. Suffice it to say that the brothers end up on a road trip around Los Angeles – ostensibly to find Tom’s lost love—although it quickly become apparent that Sam is not in the adventure to bond with his brother, but as a way to avoid his upcoming wedding.  The audience gets to decide who is the real Douchbag.

The film had its roots in Doremus’ desire to make a movie starring his two hilarious friends, Dicker and Jones, as brothers; “A Small Act,” meanwhile, began when documentarian Jennifer Arnold spent a year in Nairobi, where she hoped to donate funds to an international children’s charity that was not a scam.  Arnold was familiar with the campaigns and TV commercials asking Americans and Europeans to contribute “just a few cents a day” to sponsor African, Central American, and Caribbean children and orphans.  But could this kind of organization really make an impact?

While looking for answers, Arnold discovered the case of an impoverished Kenyan boy, Chris Mburu, who as the result of a $15-per-term donation from an anonymous Swede, was able to attend primary school and high school, to graduate, and then to attend Harvard and become a United Nations attorney specializing in human rights law.

Arnold created her film to tell the story of attorney Mburu, now 43; in the process, she discovered the surprising identity of his benefactor – Hilde Back, now 87, a retired Swedish schoolteacher who, as a young German Jewish woman, fled Nazi Germany and survived the Holocaust in Sweden.  The two met a few years ago, and in gratitude, Mburo created a new Kenyan Education fund in Back’s name.

At the screening, “A Small Act” took on a special poignancy in light of the recent events in Haiti, and the post-earthquake appeals to text message small donations for relief.

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